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Backgrounder Update #173

February 5, 1992

February 5, 1992 | Backgrounder Update on

Recognizing the Obvious, Bush Should Declare The ABM Treaty Dead

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(updaiting Backgroun*r No. 867, -?Wnoving to ABM Tway Obstacle to U.S. and Soviet Wenses Against Missiles.- Novemba 15,1991.) In a televised speech to the Russian people on January 29, Russia's President Boris Yeltsin called for ft United States and Russia to "create, andjointly op=W a global defense systcm One day earlier, in his State of die Union address, Georp Bush affinmd his own - to strategic defoise, or SDL Washington and Moscow now both are on record in favor of deploying deft= against missile attabb. Then late last week Yeltsin at the United Nations reaffirmed his Moscow statemem The common Bush-Yeltsin view is not surprising. Both of their counties face a growing danger of accidental, or irrational one from an expanding number of states armed with ballistic missiles. What dien of the incrusingly outdated 1972 And-Ballistic Missile (ABM) Treaty banaing the deployment of any serious defenses by the U.S. or the former Soviet Union? Given die die treaty is in legal limbo anyway due to the Soviet Union's collapse, and that it no longer serves the stated policies of eidw Moscow orWashington-which both want to move toward detenses-Bush simply should declare the Maly dead. Ele furtha can affirm his - - - litment to work with the Russians to reach agreement on a now Dehnse, and Spam Treaty that would encourage the cooperative deployment of strategic ddenses. The collapse of the Soviet Union, along withYeltsin's expressed willingness to cooperate with America to develop and deploy strategic defenses, present America with an opportunity to abolish existing restrictions on deftsive and to move. toward missile defense deployment in cooperation with Moscow. Al- ready the Bush Adninilatratim is moving in this direction. According to news repoz since confirmed byllie Herimp Foundatioti, Under Secretary of State Reginald two weeb ago in Moscow presented Russian officials with a list of nudes to which it wants the fom Soviet republics to adhem: die ABM Treaty was not an the list. Cowtering Cold War Holdavem Them are sips, however, that despilwYeltsin's recent statements, B may run up against some opposition in Moscow to his plans farjunidng the ADM Treaty. WbileYeltsin bacim a coopersitive U.S.-Russian prograni. to deploy defenses, his speech to the Russian people also declared die ABM 71reaty -an importantiactorin maintainin -strategic stability," an argument long made by American am control proponents and echoed by Moscow's foreign policy establishment. Many Cold War holdovers within this establishment- including the Dire= of the Institute of the USA and Can& Georgi Arbatov and muchaftheOn i Soviet Defense Ministry (now in RussWs handslare advisingYeltsin against abandon- ing the ABM Treaty. Bush thus will have to educateYdtsin an this issue. And Washington then will have to work with Yeltsin's younger defense and foreign policy advisors, dim who made their reputations as sup- POWs of Russian democracy, and not as servants of do Soviet state. They have no vested bureaucratic inter- est in keeping the ABM Treaty allve.

Bush will have to make three sets of arguments. no first is a policy argument: the ABM Treaty is a relic of the Cold War and is not suited to the post-Soviet world. SDI opponents long have argued that anti-missile deployments would fuel an arm race, with each side scrambling to deploy new offensive weapons to over- come the other's defenses. But in the new era of American-Russian cooperation, both sides are moving toward defensive deployments at the same time that they are making unprecedentedly deep cuts in offensive nucka arms. With the Soviet state gone, any fears of a wild arms race finally can be set aside. Further, the policy behind the ABM Treaty assumed that only a very few countries would possess offensive missiles. But basic missile technology is now over thirty years old and some twenty Third World nations could wen pos- sess it by the end of the decade. America and Russia have an overwhelming interest in protecting themselves against Third World missile arsenals, regardless of their bilateral military relationship. Outside of Russia. The second argument for Bush to make is legal. Under international law, Russia scarce- ly can be considered a successor to the Soviet Union as party to the ABM Treaty. This is because many of the military facilities covered by the treaty, formerly within the boundaries of the Soviet Union, now fall outside Russian control. Examples: the former Soviet Union's main ABM test facility is located near Sary Shagan in Kazakhstan; two missile-tracking radars are located in Latvia, which is not even a member of the Common- wealth of Independent States (CIS). One of the centml legal tenets governing treaty succession is that the suc- cessor state must be able to fulfill the obligations assumed by its predecessor. In the instance of the ABM Treaty, it is clear Russia cannot meet this test. As such, Russia cannot be a successor to the Soviet Union under the ABM Treaty, regardless of its desire to see the treaty upheld. Finally, Bush should stress to Yeltsin America's sincerity and willingness to negotiate at the Defense and Space Talks (DS71) talks in Geneva, a new treaty governing the deployment of strategic defenses, and in moving forward with Russia to deploy mutual strategic defenses that meet the defensive needs of both countries. America still has an interest in coordinating reductions in offensive forces with the deployment of strategic defenses. Such coordination will ensure that strategic stability is maintained during the transition to defenses. The other nuclear-armed republics of the former Soviet Union could be brought into DST, as well. These other states, including Byelorus, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine, therefore might also be invited to par- ticipate in future DST negotiations, which then would become a multi-lateral forum. But assuming that Rus- sia participates, the DST negotiations can and should go forward. Given the Soviet collapse and the overriding American interest in deploying anti-missile defenses, Bush should announce that the U.S. no longer will observe ABM Treaty restrictions after six months. Since the treaty has collapsed and therefore is not being abrogated by the U.S., the six-month notice of abrogation re- quired by the treaty is not technically require& Nevertheless, six months' notice should be given as a courtesy to Yeltsin, and to permit serious negotiating to begin on a new Defense and Space treaty. Assessing Successom At the same time, Bush should state that the U.S. position toward the ABM Treaty is part of an overall policy that addresses successorship to Soviet treaty obligations on a treaty-by-treaty basis. The ABM Treaty decision, therefore, will not prejudice subsequent judgments about which state or states should be considered successors to other treaties that it may be in the interests of the U.S., Russia, and the other CIS states to maintain. The ABM Treaty and the policy of mutual vulnerability to missile attack that undergirded it are relics of the Cold War. With an ever-lengthening list of nations coining into possession of ballistic missiles, a serious argu- ment cannot be nukle--as if it ever could-that continued vulnerability to nuclear attack is in America's in- terest. Besides, given the collapse of the Soviet Union, it would be extremely difficult to salvage the ABM Treaty even if it were considered prudent to do so. It is thus appropriate for Bush to declare the Treaty null and void and undertake negotiations with Russia, and perhaps other republics of the former Soviet Union, to reach an agreement governing the development and deployment of anti-missile defenses. This will bring to an end one of the most confusing and troubling legacies of the Cold War era, a treaty specifically designed to keep America vulnerable to attack. Baker Spningr Policy Anal@st

About the Author

Baker Spring F.M. Kirby Research Fellow in National Security Policy
Douglas and Sarah Allison Center for Foreign and National Security Policy